Sunday 31 May 2020

Brent Friends of the Earth urge Brent Council to expedite bid for TfL greener transport funding

Fearful that Brent Council and its residents will miss out on potential funding for green travel plans (bids have to be in by Thursday), Brent Friends of the Earth have written to Brent's CEO, Carolyn Downs, leading councillors and officers with recommendations for such a bid:

Dear Ms. Downs,

The government is calling for a “step-change” in the roll-out of Active Travel measures, and that these should be taken “as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks”. Moreover TfL and The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, have launched the ‘London Streetspace’ programme to help residents switch to more sustainable forms of transport, reducing the pressure on other parts of our transport network. Immediate action is essential in reducing public transport to 20% to enable social distancing whilst travelling. As you know there is funding available from TfL and we are keen that Brent secures as much funding as possible to enable the changes that are needed. We hope there is time to consider the recommendations below on green travel as a necessary and timely response to the Climate Emergency declared by Brent council last July.

1. Put in place Clean Air Zones, with charging if needed.

2. Reduce car use through measures such as promoting car-sharing and the need to own and use a car through managing developments in the local plan. The Housing Minister has revoked the sign - off for Local Plans so we ask Brent to run counter to this and find alternatives to removing Green Space / Green Corridors within Brent.

3. Deliver a rapid transition of the council’s own fleet of vehicles to electric.

4. Require deliveries to the council to be by electric vehicles or bike (e.g. through setting-up a distribution centre for onward deliveries by clean vehicles).

5. Extended time limit on pedestrian green phase at every signalised junction for disabled pedestrians; these should run without needing to push the button.

6. Connected cycle lanes through major thoroughfares and parks, clearly painted with their segregation significantly improved through the use of wands, cones, armadillos, and planters and pop-up cycle parking should be encouraged, especially in areas of high pedestrian traffic. Major thoroughfares in turn should allow cycles in bus lanes, but no other (private) vehicles, with stiff fines for infractions; they should use 'swept path analysis' software to ensure cycling safety and viability; see LINK

7. The provision of cycle hoops and bike hangers to be accelerated on given residential streets, as long as two or more households are in favour, and in the parking lots of all schools.

8. For the safety of cyclists in Brent speed limits should be lowered, especially in residential areas and near schools, with increased enforcement and speed camera infrastructure significantly expanded; wherever possible, at intersections without traffic lights and the Council should consider banning turns to remove hooking danger, among the leading causes of injury and death among cyclists.

9. The Council should commit to converting existing parking to green spaces/ tree and hedge planting wherever possible, thereby simultaneously reducing car usage and improving air quality, and adopting weekly car free days and making all school streets car-free within 500 metres of schools with exemptions for people with blue badges/disability driving badges.

10. On top of air pollution, noise pollution is a public health issue pertaining to traffic. Brent Council should more aggressively devise and implement noise impact assessments and increase enforcement including fines for all vehicles with noise levels above 10 dBA and increasing fines for modified vehicle exhaust systems that make the vehicle in question noisier after it has been ‘type approved’.

11. The North Circular Rd/A406 should be a top priority for traffic reduction, as it contributes to dangerous particulate levels and noise pollution for all adjacent communities, bisects the borough in ways that make crossing exceedingly difficult, and is extremely un-user friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. Optimally, a trolley line should be placed in lanes for both directions, although this would need coordination with TfL and adjacent boroughs. More immediately, existing plans to sequester lanes in both directions for cycle and pedestrian use, with planters/shrubbery/green verges segregating these from traffic, should be implemented; and over/underpasses for cyclists and pedestrians greatly increased.

We urge you, therefore, to consider the above and prioritise green travel plans as quickly as possible. Where appropriate, funding should be sought from TfL – and where the changes are not the responsibility of the Council we urge you to lobby TfL for these changes. We look forward to hearing from you regarding the recommendations outlined in this letter. We appreciate regular updates and feedback on the subsequent Developments of your efforts.

Saturday 30 May 2020

BREAKING: NEU calls on Government to step back from the brink and stop 1 June school reopening

From the National Education Union

Four prominent members of the Government’s own scientific advisory body have broken ranks to express worries about the safety of wider primary school opening on Monday.
SAGE members Professor Peter Horby, who is chair of the Government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG); Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Institute; John Edmunds, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Calum Semple, professor in Child Health and Outbreak Medicine have all expressed fears about the easing of lockdown.
On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Professor Horby agreed with Professors Edmunds' and Farrar’s concerns, saying that SAGE has always been very clear that test, trace, isolate must be fully running BEFORE lockdown is relaxed. The system needs to be tracking most new cases, he said, following them up within 48 hours.
Professor Horby added that SAGE does not have a good handle on the role of children and schools in transmission and stated that returning to another lockdown would be much worse than delaying another two or three weeks until contact tracing is fully up and running.
Professor Edmunds said “There are still 8,000 new infections every day in England without counting those in hospitals and care homes… If you look at it internationally, it’s a very high level of incidence.
“I think many of us would prefer to see the incidence driven down to lower levels because that then means that we have fewer cases occurring before we relax the measures.”
Professor Farrar tweeted: “Covid-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England. TTI [test, trace and isolate] has to be in place, fully working, capable [of dealing with] any surge immediately.”
Professor Semple said: “Essentially, we’re lifting the lid on a boiling pan and it’s just going to bubble over… We need to get it down to simmer before we take the lid off, and it’s too early.”
He also said that levels of transmission and hospital admissions are still too high. "I think a political decision has been made to tie in with when school was due to start, were everything normal, but it’s not normal."
National Education Union joint general secretaries Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted said: “This public break by four prominent of the Government’s SAGE committee changes everything.
“No-one can now confidently assert that it is safe to open schools more widely from Monday.
“All four of these members of SAGE agree that there must a lower number of cases and an efficient system of contact tracing working before there is a relaxation of lockdown measures. Both these measures are included in the NEU’s Five Tests.
“Opening schools more widely runs the risk of increasing the R rate and therefore the level of risk to staff and to parents.  
“That risk can only be mitigated if contact tracing is running successfully.
“We have made that case strongly to Government – and we have been supported by the BMA and by the Independent SAGE group in our concerns.
“Government replies that it is following the science. But this public break by senior members of SAGE, including by the chair of the NERVTAG committee, undermines that claim.
“School leaders, their staff and pupils’ families deserve better than this.
“Even at this late stage, we call on the Government to draw back from wider opening of primary schools from Monday.
“Instead we urge them to engage in talks with the profession and the unions, including the NEU, about how to open schools more widely once the contact tracing system is shown to be working.”

The Wembley Park Story - Part 3

The third part of Philip Grant's series on the history of Wembley Park

Welcome back to our journey through Wembley Park’s history. If you missed Part 2, “click” on the “link”.

After the failure of the Wembley Tower, the company was renamed the Wembley Park Estate Company in 1906. Its owner, the Metropolitan Railway, had electrified its lines the previous year, and was keen to develop spare land near its stations for housing. New roads to the west of the pleasure grounds had already been laid out in the 1890s, including Wembley Park Drive. This ran from the thatched lodge (built 100 years earlier, at the start of Repton’s gravel drive to the Wembley Park mansion) to the station.

1. The Lodge at the start of Wembley Park Drive, with sign to station, c.1900. (Brent Archives image 7742)
From 1907, the estate company began selling off plots of land to builders, clearing away many of the trees and the existing buildings. The “White House” had been used by a group of Catholic nuns from France since 1905, when they were expelled from their convent under a new French law separating Church and State. They had to leave, so that John Gray’s mansion could be demolished in 1908, to make way for Manor Drive.

In the former pleasure park, the Variety Hall had been leased by the Walturdaw Company in 1907, for use as a film studio. Early cinema film was highly flammable, and the wooden building burnt down in 1911! From 1909, the grounds were used for training camps by Territorial Army forces. Then, in 1912, much of the site became the 18-hole Wembley Park Golf Club.

2. Ladies playing golf at the Wembley Park Golf Club, c.1914. (Brent Archives online image 10000)
3. Wembley Hill Station, Wembley Hill Road, colourised postcard c.1908. (Brent Archives online image 7202)

The Wembley Park Estate got off to a slow start, with some houses being built in Oakington Avenue and Wembley Park Drive by 1910. After a passenger station opened on the Great Central Railway in 1906, there were also plans for a large garden suburb at Wembley Hill, just south of Wembley Park and its golf course, as shown in the advertisement below. 

4. Advertisement for Wembley Hill Garden Suburb, in 1914. (Brent Archives – Wembley History Soc. Colln.)
Wembley Urban District Council also had ideas for the former pleasure grounds, and set up a committee to prepare plans for a high-class garden suburb there as well. They had tried to buy part of the site as a public park, but could not agree a price with the estate company. Instead, they bought two fields from a farm in Blind Lane, and in July 1914 Queen Alexandra opened the park, named after her late husband, King Edward VII. The new park was beside the recently opened Blind Lane Council School, which like the road was renamed, Park Lane.

When war broke out, that same summer, all house building work came to a halt. By 1920, housing development in the area was proceeding again at pace, and not just on the former Wembley Park land. The Read family had been farmers in Wembley for centuries, including as tenants of the Pages. In 1922, the remainder of the farm they rented (part of which they had lost for the park) was sold off. John Read, who was born at Elm Tree Farm (near the junction with Wembley Hill Road) fifty years earlier, emigrated with his family to Australia.

5. Elm Tree Farm, Park Lane, in 1922. (Photo by Kuno Reitz, W.H.S. Colln., Brent Archives online image 9225)

One reason for the rapid increase in house building was the efforts of the Metropolitan Railway to promote districts along its line as “Metro-land”, healthy suburbs that gave easy access “to town”. Another reason was the efforts of Wembley building firms such as Comben & Wakeling. The accessibility of Wembley Park to the centre of the capital, and the large size of the former pleasure grounds, was also a key factor in its choice, in 1921, as the site for a huge exhibition.

6. Wembley Park housing adverts, from the 1922 edition of "Metro-land". (Brent Archives – W.H.S. Colln.)
Ideas for a British Empire Exhibition had come together the previous year, with the promise of Government support. As well as promoting trade, its aim was ‘to enable all who owe allegiance to the British flag to meet on common ground and learn to know each other.’ The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), who was President of the organising committee, was keen that the exhibition should include ‘a great national sports ground’, and work began on this in 1922.

The Empire Stadium was completed in time for the F.A. Cup Final in April 1923, but the rest of the exhibition area was still a building site. Work had been delayed, because sections of the golf course fairways had been fenced off, to provide the first turf for the football pitch. It was thought that the stadium’s 125,000 capacity would be enough, as it was twice the size of the Stamford Bridge ground where recent finals had been played, but around 200.000 fans came to Wembley for the match. The few local pubs nearby did a roaring trade!

7. Outside the old Greyhound pub, High Street, on Cup Final day, April 1923. (Brent Archives image 9444)
Over the next year around 15,000 men, 70% previously unemployed ex-servicemen, laboured to construct the numerous exhibition buildings, and to landscape the 216-acre site. Just as it had been for the stadium, reinforced concrete was the main material used, with thousands of tons of ballast transported down the Metropolitan Railway from a huge gravel pit near Rickmansworth. Most of the buildings were ready when the exhibition opened on 23 April 1924.

8. Panoramic view of the exhibition site, from the cover of a BEE booklet. (Brent Archives – W.H.S. Colln.)

Topical Budget: "King Opens Empire Exhibition Wembley" (1924)
(Click bottom right square for full screen)

The British Empire Exhibition that King George V opened had pavilions representing almost every nation within it, from across the world. Many were designed in the style of buildings from those countries, and housed men and women displaying their crafts and selling their products, as well as performers giving a taste of a wide variety of cultures. The 1924 F.A. Cup Final was an all-ticket event, after the chaos of 1923, and fans could enjoy the newly-opened exhibition.

9. Cutting showing Burmese dancers performing for 1924 FA Cup fans. (Brent Archives – W.H.S. Colln.)

North of the artificial lake, that crossed the site from east to west, there were large “Palaces” displaying Britain’s Art, Industry and Engineering. Next to these was a huge amusement park, which as well as thrill rides had full size replicas of a coal mine, and of the recently discovered tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamen. Many maps were produced to help visitors find their way around the attractions. Today, if you wanted to visit where Huntley & Palmer’s biscuits had been made, you would have to wait until Wembley Library reopens, after the “lockdown”.

10. The Huntley & Palmers map of the British Empire Exhibition, 1924. (Brent Archives online image 5432)
Although the map above shows the main railway lines, it gave no information about the other innovations being tried out to transport visitors around the large exhibition site. The Neverstop Railway ran for two miles from the North Entrance. It was driven by a continuous corkscrew underneath the carriages, with the threads distanced so that it moved slowly through the five stations, allowing travellers to get on and off easily, but speeded up to over 20mph in between. Two million people used it, paying a flat fare of six (old) pence, with half price for children. A different system, the Road-Rail train, across the south of the site, was not a success.
You might be surprised to learn that there were also 200 electric buses. The “Railodok” cars had a driver, who took up to twelve passengers on a 20-minute tour round the exhibition. This proved very popular after the King and Queen had enjoyed the experience, driving quietly but safely through the crowds. These buses had a specially built garage, where their batteries would be re-charged – an idea that, nearly 100 years ago, was ahead of its time.

11. The Nigerians, rehearsing for the Pageant in the stadium, July 1924. (Brent Archives – W.H.S. Colln.)
Throughout the exhibition, the stadium was the venue for large scale shows. In July and August, it was the Pageant of Empire, which used thousands of local volunteers, in period costumes, to re-enact events from history. It was staged in three sections during the week, with all three being performed on Saturdays. Those who had come to Wembley from across the Empire joined a finale parade, and the photo above shows the Nigerians rehearsing their part. The animals for the Pageant were kept at Oakington Manor (Sherren’s) Farm. Wembley’s entire police force were called out one night, to round up 50 donkeys which had escaped!
Around 17 million visitors came to Wembley Park for the exhibition in 1924, and a further 10 million when it re-opened for the 1925 season. If you would like to find out more, there is a British Empire Exhibition section in the Brent Archives online local history documents. New Zealand, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the West Indies are among the exhibitors you will find information on, as well as learning about Belo Akure, a First World War hero at Wembley. You can also see how Canada and Australia made use of refrigeration in their displays.

12. The exhibition's lake, with the Indian Pavilion in the distance. (Brent Archives online image 7326)
When the exhibition finally closed, on 31 October 1925, there was no plan in place for its legacy. The company set up to run it had made a loss, and a liquidator was appointed to sell off the buildings and other assets. Some of the pavilions were dismantled, and taken elsewhere to be re-purposed as factories, a restaurant and a dance hall. Attractions from the amusement park were sold to Blackpool and Southend, or just for scrap metal. Did Wembley Park have a future? Yes, it did – please join me next weekend to find out more!

Philip Grant.

Friday 29 May 2020

Pressure mounts on Brent Council as Brent TUC calls for schools to remain closed until NEU's 5 Tests satisfied

Brent Trade Union Council has sent the following letter to Cllr Muhammed Butt (Leader of the Council) and Cllr Krupesh Hirani:

Following a recent online meeting organised by Brent Trades Council at which Dawn Butler MP, Barry Gardiner MP, supported by Tulip Siddip MP, trade unionists from Brent branches of the GMB, Unite, NEU, RMT and medical and health and safety experts spoke of the risks in Brent from the spread of the virus. The high numbers of deaths caused by poverty, a densely populated borough could see a further a spike if schools re-open on 1st June.

I urge you as Chair of Brent Trades Council to ensure Brent schools remain as they currently are catering for small groups of vulnerable pupils or for children of frontline workers.
I note that the governments in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and the authorities in Liverpool and Hartlepool are so deeply concerned that it is not yet safe for children, school staff, parents and our local communities to allow schools to do so that they have decided against this course of action. Some London local authorities have done the same. I believe Brent should do the same.

I believe that in proposing the phased return of primary pupils from 1st June onwards, the government has put forward a reckless timetable. The wider opening of schools should only go ahead when it is safe to do so. It is unconscionable to shift the responsibility for safety in schools and the wider community onto individual headteachers without a safe national framework.

The government has demonstrated a lack of understanding around the dangers of the spread of Covid-19 from schools to the family home, and from the family home to relatives and carers, and consequently the dangers of transmission to the wider community. There are too many clinical unknowns about how this virus impacts on children. The reports of a Kawasaki-like disease already linked to 100 cases in the U.K have caused great alarm to parents. The heartbreaking death of 8 month old Alexander Parsons has sent shockwaves across the nation. The death of one child alone is one too many.

Giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee this week, the Department for Education’s Chief Scientific Adviser admitted the Government’s plan could risk spreading coronavirus since there is a "low degree of confidence" that children transmit the virus less than adults. It is simply impossible to apply social distancing to small children, who want to touch, play and hug. It is cruel to try to separate them, to tell them they may not touch each other, to take away their soft toys, and to not pick them up and comfort them when they fall.

Brent Trades Concil fully supports the National Education Union’s #FiveTests and believes there should be full disclosure of the advice relating to the re-opening of schools whether it is from SAGE, the schools sub division, some other combination of its members or from Public Health England (as suggested by the DfE’s Chief Scientific Adviser in his evidence) with any underlying scientific evidence, data or modelling on which that advice is based.
It makes little sense for children to return before September. It would be far better to be working collaboratively towards the implementation of safe conditions which would permit a safe 'wider opening.’ This should be the objective rather than a fixed date. This is what other countries including Scotland and Wales are doing.

Brent Trades Council welcomes your decision to support school staff who do not feel safe to return to work but as chair I ask you to support teaching staff and parents alike in insisting that schools remain closed until the NEU’s #FiveTests have been satisfied. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in response to the concerns raised in this email.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Adossides
Brent Trades Council

NEU call on Brent Council to close schools except for keyworker & vulnerable provision pending safety assurance

The following letter has been sent to Brent Council by Brent NEU:

Dear Brent Council,

Yesterday the government has said that it is safe for schools to open on 1st June. But today the NEU has seen the Independent Scientific Experts' SAGE report (the link is below) which outlines how the government have failed to follow scientific advice. They go on to say that they believe IT IS NOT SAFE FOR SCHOOLS TO START WIDER REOPENING FROM 1ST JUNE.
The reopening model is not based on the modelling that the SAGE group carried out. It is also reliant on a lower "R" number than we currently have as well as an established track and trace system which is proven to be working.
Based on the many school risk assessments I have been consulted on this week, the problem with every single one of them is the lack of knowledge of how Brent's track, trace and isolation system will work and the lack of confidence amongst our members that it is even in place fully. This is through no fault of your own or the headteachers.
Sheffield council have joined 35 other councils today in stopping their schools from opening because they want to wait until track and trace has been in place for 14 days to know that it works. Sheffield currently has an infection rate of 434 cases per 100,000 people. Brent's rate is currently 444.4. 
The "R" rate across the country is currently 0.7-0.9. The government's own SAGE advisers have stated that reopening of schools will cause this to rise up to or above 1 based on this rate. This will cause exponential growth again of the virus. That means hundreds of deaths in Brent including amongst our school communities.
Unions exist to protect our members by using our collective voice. We have a track record in lobbying for safety improvements and often notice and warn of dangers far in advance of companies, councils and governments admitting there are problems. This has happened in Brent in the past, for example, over exposed asbestos in Braintcroft, Sladebrook and Hay Lane Schools and there has been at least one case of terminal mesothelioma as a result of the dangers that we were exposing.
On the basis of this new scientific report (below), and the obvious dangers in the Brent community (the infection rate, the continuing rate of 3 deaths a week- the most recent being a teacher in a Brent school, and the high number of vulnerable people and people from black and Asian backgrounds as well as the knowledge that 28 people have died in Church End ward alone), regardless of the work that is being carried out on the schools' risk assessments (which we nevertheless support and will continue supporting in partnership with yourselves), the NEU is now STRONGLY URGING  that the council stops any wider reopening of its schools until track and trace has been in place for two weeks and reviewed. 
We have today, in line with our union's advice nationally, warned our members in Brent that the NEU believes THAT IT IS NOT SAFE TO GO IN TO SCHOOL (other than for the existing key worker/vulnerable children provision) next week.
They have been given this advice:
IF YOU ARE BEING TOLD TO GO IN NEXT WEEK (with or without children) this will probably mean that you may need to cite Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 in an email to your headteacher. Members in Brent from several schools have already been doing this today. You are stating that you will continue to work from home until it is safer.  YOU WILL BE PROTECTED BY LAW AND THE UNION IF YOU TAKE THIS ACTION.
Although Cllr Butt has stated in the Kilburn Times that he will protect any staff in this position, we would, of course, rather not have to take action perceived as putting us in conflict with the hardworking headteachers of Brent and yourselves. We therefore request, once more, that you join the other 36 councils in temporarily closing your schools to all but the essential provision for key workers and the most vulnerable. This, we feel, would go a long way towards preventing more deaths in our communities in Brent.
Jenny Cooper
Brent District Joint Secretary
Brent State Education Branch
National Education Union

Schools should not reopen until coronavirus tests have been clearly met, says Green Party

The Green Party has urged local authorities not to fall in line with the Government’s timetable for reopening schools until the conditions for easing lockdown have been clearly met.

Green Party education spokesperson Vix Lowthion, who is also a teacher on the Isle of Wight, has said the health and wellbeing of staff and pupils is being put at risk by reopening schools before it is safe to do so.

Lowthion said:
Reopening schools on Monday will have an enormous impact on the health and wellbeing of thousands of families across the country, and so it is vital that any decision to do so is based on clear scientific guidance.

Unfortunately, while the Prime Minister claims that the five tests for easing lockdown have been met, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser has said that the ‘R rate’ is still near 1. This simply does not make sense and it is not right that we are putting the lives of children and staff at risk based on such conflicting advice. 

The Independent SAGE group has also set out clearly why it is too soon to be opening schools.

The government’s own five tests have a glaring omission of ensuring there is an adequate test, trace and isolate operation as recommended by the World Health Organisation. We are simply nowhere near that yet and until that is in place it is not safe to reopen schools.

We know there are real issues with inequality and some young people falling behind, but this is about weighing up the risks and putting people’s health first, while doing everything we can to ensure those pupils who need more support can receive it in other ways.

We are working with local Green parties and councillors across the country to put pressure on their local authorities not to fall in line with the Government’s timetable on schools reopening. Local decision making is vitally important, particularly if authorities need to be able to respond to local lockdowns in the future.

Thursday 28 May 2020

How Brent is coping with the Covid crisis and planning for the future

Hover over bottom line and click on right hand corner for full size version

Thanks to Dr Jonathan Flaxman for permission to post this presentation on Covid19

There were several strands to last night's Brent TUC meeting on Covid 19 zoom meeting: an awareness that Brent was one of the worst affected areas in the country, the disproportionate number of black and ethnic minority people who have lost their lives to Covid, a lack of faith in the government's ability to manage the crisis and a fear of a second wave of infections and deaths because of a premature relaxation of lockdown. On the positive side early ordering of personal protective equipment for care home workers by Brent Council and the return of infected care home residents to a special facility, rather than directly to the care home, had limited care home deaths in Brent. Many were keen to learn lessons from the crisis and rather than a return to old ways to support the 'Build Back Better' movement to put in place a better society which respects and values the public sector and retains some of the benefits of lockdown such as cleaner air and community cohesion.

Dr Jonathan Flaxman a retired GP and member of the National Covid Assessment Unit set the scene with the above Power Point presentation.

He was followed by Simon Hester, formerly of the Health and Safety Executive and now Haringey Trades Council, who spoke of workers' rights under the Employment Rights Act to remove themselves from danger. The government had moved the goal posts on construction workers, first insisting on a 2 metre social spacing, then relaxed that to a 15 minute limit on working in proximity to a co-worker, and followed that to approval of co-working as long as masks are worn.  The ability of the HSE to inspect construction site working for compliance has been severely limited by government cuts - there are only 20 inspectors to cover the whole of London.  The only alternative was for workers to organise collectively in order to protect themselves. Haringey TUC had set up a Covid Action Network.

Cllr Krupesh Hirani, Brent Cabinet member for Public Health, Culture and Leisure, said that at the beginning of the crisis Brent had the highest death rate. Croydon and Newham in London are high at present and rates in the North of England are mounting. On 8th May the figures for Brent stood at  446 deaths of which 362 were in hospital and 37 in care homes.  The R rate (spreading of infection) is now lower in London and there are prospects of regional variation in relaxation of the lockdown. The disproportionate rates for BAME residents are under investigation and will be followed up by public health outreach work in the community. Likely factors are deprivation, diet and physical activity. The major issue arising out of the crisis for the council would be the impact on its finances with the government backtracking on early compensation commitments.

Cat Cray of the RMT, a train driver, said that a survey had found that Londoner's had the pooresr knowledge of government guidance on Covis19 in the country.  There had been 4 deaths of London Underground workers - all black males. In response RMT had been able to have mitigation put in place.  There have been 8 incidents of spitting at staff by the public.  London has the lowest proportion of car owners in the country so are reliant on public transpoirt. Underground workers that going above 15% capacity on the tube will be unsafe for passengers. The withdrawal of concessionary fares was outright discrimination.

Lesley Stanfield of the GMB  spoke about the national situation regarding care homes and how the government had acted too late. She reminded people that most care homes are 'for profit' and this was the case in Brent. As a consequence workers were low paid. Many care hoem staff had not bee given PPE or that which was given was rationed. She said that there had been constructive work with other unions over school workers and that it was important that headteachers consulted with their staff. She was fearful about about mental health issues airsing from the crisis.

Sonia Morgan, a bus driver said that after deaths of bus drivers, protective measures had been put in place, isolating the driver from passengers.  There is now no swiping and the public are enjoying free travel but swiping is being introduced on the 'Boris' buses which have centre doors with swipe facilites. Currently TfL are running a Sunday service on most routes but the 98 is nownormal service and 260 will be normal from Saturday.

Jenny Cooper from Brent NEU spoke about the union's 5 tests to be met before safe re-opening of schools. These had not been met as cases were still not low enough and there was no detail on how 'test, track, isolate'  would be implemented in schools and no guidance from Brent Council.  Testing of staff had not been fully estabished and some teachers had been waiting for more than two weeks for results,  There was no proper plan to protect BAME school staff.  The union was adopting a 'safety first' approach and some schools had put back wider re-openung until June 8th or June 15th.

Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North said he supported the education unions' 5 tests and said that there was no compulsion for schools to go back until it ws safe to do so. He congratulated Brent Council on ordering PPE for care homes in February resulting in the second lowest care home death rate in London. On the furlough scheme he said that no one should be receiving less than the London Living Wage.  He had written to the Home Secerary about the plight of families not entitled to support from public funds and had heard that applications will now be considred. The government had not been following the science from the beginning - in fact they had asked what they should do after early failures and were still not following the advice,

Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central, said she was worried about a second peak in Brent - people were at risk as soon as they left the front door.  Harlesden with its high rate of infection was to be a pilot for testing, including testing for anti-bodies, with a centre in Robson Avenue. There was a huge time delay at present between having a test and getting a result, a rapid reponse was vital for effective implementation of track and trace,  She was concerned about rents, including for small businesses, domestic violence and post-Covid mental health provision for adults and children.

In discussion about the situation after Covid (the 'new normal') Pam Laurance of Brent Friends of the Earth said that people did not want to go back to pre-Covid times. She wanted to see investment in a Green New Deal. Dawn Butler supported this and said that bailing out companies such as aviation should be conditional.  Dawn was supporting action to ensure that people in Brent would have access to face coverings.

Barry Gardiner said that the Covid crisis would pale into insignificance compared with what we would face in the climate change crisis. It was important to move towards 'Building Back Better' post Covid. He said that it was not just a question of aviation companies being required not to pay dividiends or  go go off-shire but of taking an equity stake in them as had been done with banks in the credit crisis (there was disagreement over this in the 'chat' column with some feeling that this would mean the state colluding with the aviation industry in order to maximise its return on the investment).

Jenny Cooper said that over the past few weeks the NEU had held positive talks with Brent Council on how schools can be built into the environmental agenda.

Cllr Hirani said that closer work between unions and the council on a practical levels as a result of the crisis was something to build on.  There was a need for the council to be fully compensated by the government for its expenditure on protecting residents   - the government appeared to be going back on its initial pledge to local government.  The bail out of TfL had involved too many concessions and revealed the government's political attitude towards the London Mayor.  The government was being exposed in front of our eyes and it was important to keep up the pressure on them.

The meeting discussed a possible future meeting, to be confirmed by the Brent Trades Council Executive, to set up a Brent Against Covid Campaign.  On chat I suggested it would be more positive to call it Brent Build Back Better Campaign.

BBC London's report on Northwick Park Hospital's Covid19 response

Tuesday 26 May 2020

UPDATED: Wembley Pavement Widening Mystery

Only days after barriers were erected to widen pavements in Wembley High Road they have been pushed back creating a barrier to pedstrians rather than helping them. The point of pavement widening was so that pedestrians could socially distance in a very crowded area.

Cyclists and pedestrians took to Twitter calling for an explanation and prosecution of any organisation or individual who had taken the law into their own hands.


Brent Council has responded to one of thse complained via Twitter:
We've passed this onto the relevant team who are going to send someone out today to move the barriers back to their correct locations and see if there's anything more we can do to prevent this happening again.

Sunday 24 May 2020

Harrow Council leader's straight-talking statement on wider re-opening of schools

The leader of Harrow Council has provided a model for what leadership on the wider opening of schools means:

Saturday 23 May 2020

Pavement widening - a tale of two boroughs

Kilburn High Road (Camden side)

South Kilburn resident Pete Firmin has been somewhat bemused by the pavement widening of Kilburn High Road by Camden and Brent Councils. The aim is to enable pedestrians to social distance on crowded locations.

On the Camden side he spotted the above very short piece of pavement widening.  He noted that the widening stopped at every junction with a side road.

Next day Brent had a different idea, they closed off the side roads adjoining the High Road to traffic.

Pete commented, 'I'm not sure that's a good idea.'

Any reports on how it went today?

Friday 22 May 2020

The Wembley Park Story – Part 2

The second of Philip Grant's series on the history of Wembley Park

The first part of this story took us from Saxon times up to the “birth” of Wembley Park in 1793. If you missed it, “click” here.

1. Repton's sketch of his proposed mansion, in its parkland setting. (Extract from a copy at Brent Archives)

Humphry Repton was landscaping the grounds of Wembley Park for Richard Page, but they disagreed over Repton’s proposed “Gothic” designs for the mansion, which were never carried out. By 1795, Page had moved to Flambards, another mansion on Harrow Hill, that he inherited from Mary Herne. This had mature grounds, which had been laid out by Capability Brown around 1770.

When Richard Page died in 1803, his estate was valued at £400,000 (worth over £25 million now). He had never married, and his will left a “life interest” in his estate to his next eldest brother, Francis, and then down the male line. Francis Page did not marry either, nor had the next youngest of the five brothers, John, who died in 1801. The family seemed unaware of the “truth” which Jane Austen was writing about at that time!

2. The opening line from an early edition of Jane Austen’s "Pride and Prejudice". (Image from the internet)

By 1809, Francis Page had sold Wembley Park to John Gray, a wealthy brandy merchant who was a Freeman of the City of London. However, as the Page family’s Wembley Park legacy was to continue into the 20th century, I need to finish their story. Francis died in 1810, and as he had no children, the Page estate passed to the fourth brother, William. In 1813, he and his surviving brother Henry put the management of their affairs into the hands of their solicitor, Francis Fladgate. 

William Page died, without marrying, in 1824, so Henry Page inherited the estate. He had married in 1813, aged 55, but his wife died five years later, without leaving any children. Henry Young, who as a 14-year old clerk had witnessed William Page’s will, had since married Fladgate’s daughter and taken over the solicitor’s business. Henry Page, who appears to have been feeble minded, and often drunk, allowed Young to draw up his will in 1825. When Henry Page died, four years later, the entire Page family fortune had been left to their solicitor!

3. Wembley Park mansion, "The White House", photographed c.1880. (Brent Archives – W.H.S. Colln,)

From 1811 onwards, John Gray did have the Wembley Park mansion modernised and enlarged, spending around £14,000 in the process. His home became known as the White House, because of its pale stucco finish, and he lived there until his death in 1828. Wembley Park passed to his son, Rev. John Edward Gray, although his father’s will had said that the estate must be put up for sale. It was advertised for auction in 1834, as ‘a beautiful demesne with 272 acres of rich meadow land and pasturage, including plantations’, but it was not sold, and Rev. Gray and his family remained living there for the rest of his life.

4. Wembley Park, from an 1865 Ordnance Survey map. (from Brent Archives – maps collection)

The map above shows Wembley Park and its surrounding area in 1865. Apart from the small community around Wembley Hill, it was mainly farms, with two large Victorian houses along the Harrow Road. These had been built for wealthy men who liked to live in the country, but could take a train to the City from the London & Birmingham Railway’s nearby Sudbury (for Wembley) Station [now Wembley Central], which had opened in 1844.

Wembley Park’s farmland was managed for the Gray family by a bailiff, but there were no public paths across their estate, and they appear to have lived a quiet life. The area did attract some visitors, however. An 1837 guide described the “Green Man” as ‘a favourite Sunday resort for a respectable class of people.’ This popularity continued during Victoria’s reign, with its ‘panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, including the Metropolis and Windsor Castle.’ The picture of the inn below is the earliest known photograph of Wembley, taken in June 1862.
5. The "Green Man", Wembley Hill, 1862. (Wembley History Society Colln., Brent Archives online image 714)

In 1879, the Metropolitan Railway from Baker Street had reached Willesden Green, and the company wanted to extend their line. Rev. John Gray had little choice but to sell them a 47- acre strip of land across his estate, and the railway opened to Harrow in August 1880. Seven years later, Gray died, and as he had fathered nine children, his executors sold the Wembley Park estate in 1889, so the proceeds could be shared. It was bought by the Metropolitan Railway’s Chairman, Sir Edward Watkin, for £32,929 18s 7d.

Watkin’s dream was to build a railway from Manchester to Paris - one of his schemes managed to start building a tunnel under the English Channel in 1880! He had seen Eiffel’s new Tower in the French capital, and proposed to build an even taller one in London. His Tower Company leased 124 acres of Wembley Park in late 1889, for use as a pleasure ground, and a competition was organised to design the Wembley Tower that would be its centrepiece.

6. Some of the tower designs from the 1890 competition. (Brent Archives online image 4081)

The tower had to be at least 1200 feet tall, and the first prize of 500 guineas attracted dozens of entries from Britain, Europe and North America. Although the prize was awarded to a British design, the judges thought that it needed some modification, to reduce its construction costs. When work began in 1892, the “winning” octagonal tower design ended up with just four legs, looking a lot like Monsieur Eiffel’s, but planned to be 150 feet higher.

While construction was underway on the tower, the rest of the pleasure ground was being laid out, including a large boating lake, a sports area and gardens. Watkin wanted those coming to enjoy the attractions to use his Metropolitan Railway, so a new station for Wembley Park was built. It was ready for when the pleasure ground opened in May 1894. The map below shows how Wembley Park looked then (compare it with thirty years earlier, above).

7. A map showing Wembley Park and its surrounding area in 1895. (from Brent Archives – maps collection)

It was May 1896 before the first stage of the tower, with a platform 155 feet above the hilltop, was opened to the public. That was as far as it got, owing to a shortage of funds and its feet starting to sink into the underlying clay. Other events to attract visitors included a cricket match against the Australian touring side in 1896, athletics and horse trotting races, and shows in the wooden variety hall, but attendances (120,000 in the 1895 season) were fewer than hoped.

Figure 8. Postcard of the lake and tower, c.1900. (Brent Archives online image 1662)
9. “Benny C”, winning a 10-mile trotting race at Wembley Park in 1902. (Brent Archives online image 7384)

10. A mandolin band at Wembley Park in 1904. (Brent Archives online image 9217)

Wembley Park received some unwelcome visitors in 1900, when a group of protestors tried to claim possession of the land. A Mrs Davey had read about the wealthy family who once owned it, and had persuaded “subscribers” to back her plan to recover “The Page Millions”, in return for a share of the reward that would be due. 

In 1905, a court case, in the name of James Page, distantly related to Richard Page of Wembley Park, was filed against the Metropolitan Railway and Tower Company. It claimed he was the rightful heir, denied his inheritance because of fraud by Henry Young. The case was dismissed in 1906, as anyone who felt they should have inherited the Page estate could have claimed it in 1829, or soon after. The claim would also have failed because Francis Page had sold Wembley Park to John Gray, so that it was not part of the alleged fraud by the solicitor.

The viewing platform of the Tower remained open to the public until 1902, when the lifts were deemed to be unsafe. It had already been nicknamed “Watkin’s Folly”. Sir Edward had died the previous year, but not before one of his other railway companies, the Great Central, had built a line alongside the Metropolitan, and planned a branch line from Neasden to Northolt. The photograph shows it being constructed, past the disused Tower.

11. The Great Central Railway branch line under construction, c.1903. (Brent Archives online image 9253)

The short life of the Wembley Park pleasure grounds was effectively over by 1906. The company running them even had to pay £1,200 to have the Tower dismantled, by Messrs Heenan and Froude who had built it. So what next for Wembley Park? The story will continue in Part 3, next weekend.

If you have any questions, or information on Wembley Park that you would like to share, please use the comments section below.

Philip Grant.